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The use and better use of QR codes in learning

Fig.1. Here a ‘Near Field Code’ offers the visitor further information as a rich ‘nugget’ delivered to their smart phone – though not to iPhones. My perfect guide would have been my mother at my side.

An avid visitor to museums, galleries, historic houses and battlefields I have become intrigued by the kinds of guidance offered and the way this has changed with the greater use of IT and in some instances the use of Quick Response or Near Field codes. All of them appear to try to recreate the perfect visitor support – the sympathetic, well informed guide at your shoulder explaining what’s what and tailoring their response to your interests and level of interest. I had this, and my children, nephews and nieces got it too from my late mother on visits to art galleries. An artist who had studied art history too, she had a way of picking out nuggets of information and insight about an artist and their trade.

Fig. 2. Some galleries and museums now offer an audio guide that is at least triggered by your proximity to an exhibit.

Though you are of course still beholden to the words and tone of the expert, even if their words are spoken by a broadcaster. From time to time the quality of the content stands out – in my experience the audio-guide for visitors to Alcatraz in the Bay of San Francisco stands out because it had to my ears the hallmarks of a BBC radio docu-drama – expertly written and crafted with the right mix of interview clips from former inmates, and prison guards.

As learning experience this is still one way – however memorable I am neither constructing my own narrative nor sharing much with others, until of course you take off your headphones and share your feelings and thoughts with other family members.

A QR code offers more than just a switch that triggers a nugget of reading, viewing or listening at a specific spot – it offers the chance to take people to content that you provide and to make connections that lead to conversations and discussion. It is these aspects of the QR code that are of interest to me, students as ‘produsers’ and participants, having responsibility for, even pride in, content that they research, put online, tag and then promote with a QR code and then return to as the curator and moderator of their content, sharing and expanding their views through ‘connected learning’ practice.

Fig. 3. Using Quick Response codes to bring those who served in the First World War to life

In relation to the First World War, to achieve this requires more than simply sticking QR codes to poppies, and leaving poppies at memorials, in the railings outside historic buildings, or in the ground on battlefields – it requires three kinds of champion: institutional support, educator support and these ‘produsers’ – a term coined by the Australian academic John Bruns when writing about the value of blogging.

The institution, by way of example, in the UK, might be the British Legion, Imperial War Museum, Western Front Association or National Trust – as well as smaller, regional and local associations. The ‘educator’ to use its broadest sense is the classroom teacher or university lecturer who once introduced to QR codes sees how their use can be exploited within their own learning programmes.


Fig.4. My visualization and conception of those who are most active at generating content. After Jakob Nielsen (1999)

While the ‘produser’ is that rare 1% in an online population, like those who generate content for wikipedia, keep a blog or post video content to YouTube, who can be encouraged, within the context of the First World War to use QR codes in imaginative and innovative ways, probably drawing viewers to content or adapted content, that they have already created and in doing so indicating to others how straightforward it can be to upload a photograph and some text, or if they are moved to do so, to write a poem, compose a song, paint a picture, make a sculpture, complete some research or tell a story – and then to share it, especially at times and in places that are most appropriate.


Bruns, A. (2005) ‘Anyone can edit’: understanding the produser. Retrieved from http;//snurb.info/index. php?q=node/s86

Nielsen, J (1999) Web Usability


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